Magical Realism as a Form of Fantastic Fiction
A woman can interact with spirits, a man can live one hundred and forty years, and characters can have conversations with the walls. In Magical Realism, anything is possible. All the rules we applied to the ordinary world can be bent at any moment. Writers tell the story as if the most important were the realistic part, while the magic only represents a minor ordinary detail. Authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende incorporated Magical Realism into their writing introducing magical elements to the story without creating any new worlds but suggesting the magic in our own world.
Its origin began in Latin America as a legacy that several writers established at the beginning of the last century. It was a new form of expression to making the political and the social situations of Latin America’s reality a main premise. There is also a theory that the term Magic Realism was used for the first time in the criticism of a painting in Germany by Franz Roh, where he claimed that a painting showed an exaggerated reality. However, this data is not enough to speculate that this was how this movement started. Magic Realism is characterized by mixing fantastic elements and reality with naturalness and emphasis in myths and culture of Latin America. To better understand the origin of this literary movement, we can turn to Maria Achitenei “Magic Realism. Concepts, features, principles, and methods”. Achitenei lists the main causes that led to the emergence of magic realism. On one hand, the author points out the crisis of religion as one of the main causes. Due to the great technical advances of the twentieth century, human beings found themselves in doubt about their ‘ancestral beliefs’ and looked for something new to fill the space. In this same line, Achitenei affirms that magical realism can assume the ideological role that religion had lost. Likewise, the author affirms that in a cyclical way, humanity recreates stories to remember his heroes. Therefore, if the great empires created epics during their times of splendor “now is the turn of any country to create epic stories as fairy tales, within magical realism” (p. 3). Readers started looking for what magic realism suggests: epic stories adorned with metaphors, hyperboles, and wisdom. Achitenei mentions the reader who was tired of withstanding the hardness of realism and reality, and the only way to face so much death was to make fun of it. Dale Carter in his dissertation, “Magical Realism in Contemporary Argentine Fiction” at University of Southern California, expressed “As the paradoxical nature of the term indicates, magical realism is first of all the combination of reality and fantasy. Second, is the transformation of the real into the awesome and unreal: time exist in a kind of timeless fluidity and the unreal happens as a part of reality” (p. 3). Readers were comforted to discover characters with ordinary lives who master common realities.
The authors of Magical Realism use their narrative to show different experiences of realities from the characters’ point of view. They try to join the perception of a world that really exists with a completely different interpretation of what it is normal, or conventional. Within this literary movement, we can mention two outstanding writers: Gabriel García Márquez who wrote, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, and Isabel Allende with, “The House of the Spirits”.
Gabriel García Márquez (1928-2014) demonstrated the use of magical realist techniques, such as the mixture of real and imaginary or the fusion of myth and history. The novel tells the life of the Buendía family who were condemned to a hundred years of loneliness. It shows the cycle of birth and death of a condemned generation. Examples of curious and magical elements are that the matriarch of the family lived all generations, and a girl that is so beautiful that she is followed everywhere by a cloud of butterflies. Isabel Allende narrates throughout the novel, “The House of the Spirits”, the magical aspects and the hard realities of the life of three generations of the Trueba family. Their lives pass during the historical changes of Chile from the beginning of the 20th century until the military coup. Women of these three generations have an unusual strength: Clara can interact with the spirits and demonstrates a growing dominance in the displacement of objects by their psychic strength; Blanca inherits some of the clairvoyance of her mother although she never gets to speak with the spirits; Alba is also able to call them. Each of these women manages to escape from the man oppression – carried out by Esteban Trueba – in a unique and magic way. All of them symbolize a different way of seeing the struggle for equality.
Magical Realism is a literary movement of contrast where the magical and the real, life and death, time and space, join in a so delicate line that sometimes it is impossible to identify the differences. Wendy Faris best describes magical realism as “a piece of fiction which must have as its principal characteristic an irreducible element of magic, something we cannot explain according to the law of the universe as we know it” (p. 167). The magic is born of reality and is introduced naturally in the story. Characters coexist normally with ordinary elements and fantastic events (long lives, exaggerated diseases, levitations, dead that are alive, etc.). In addition, these unnatural elements are rarely explained since the characters see them with absolute normality and accept magical elements in their everyday situations. An example would be in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” the scene in which Jose Arcadio Buendia was murdered and blood ran through the streets to Ursula’s house. Garcia Marquez writes, “A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed up curbs” (p. 144). Here Marquez uses irony to highlight the importance of death. Furthermore, in “House of the Spirit”, fantastic elements are combined with reality where there is a ghost in the story, but the ghost is not a fantasy element but a manifestation of the reality of people who believe in it and have ‘real’ experiences of ghosts. The details are narrated in a neutral tone and without highlighting the magic, so the reader almost oversees it. The writer uses the magic as for granted.
Magical Realism developed in a context in which the democracy and political stabilities are represented as the basic elements for a modern country. On the contrary, several countries in Latin America were marked by the political instability and anti-democratic regimes. Also, the media presents these countries as marked by the narco phenomenon and the strong military presence holding the power. In this context, Magical Realism presents a Latin American identity. The stories of social problems, social injustices, especially with the marginalized social classes, as well as the violent repressions perpetrated by the military power, found through Magical Realism a voice to report them. Within the author’s topics, we can find Latin American contexts, like natural disasters, military governments, the dictator’s loneliness, or myth of the Hispanic culture.
Magical Realism transformed the literary way of conceiving reality and fiction. This literary style leaves the reader with the idea that the world of unnatural events is one that people really live in and the suspicion that maybe this view is correct. The stories tell the most fantastic miracles performed by characters with gifts and quirky powers. It takes the talent of writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende, and the intuition of the reader to create Magic Realism, the most magical of any literary movement.
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